March 2012

New Kirschstein biography

Free e-book released by the NIH 


The National Institutes of Health last month released a new biography of Ruth Lillian Kirschstein, the late deputy director of the agency and the longtime director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The book, “Always There: The Remarkable Life of Ruth Lillian Kirschstein, M.D.," was written by Alison F. Davis, a Washington, D.C.-based scientist-turned-writer, and contains a forward co-authored by Kirschstein’s husband, Alan Rabson, and son, Arnold Rabson, both of whom are biomedical researchers.

“So who was this woman, Ruth Lillian Kirschstein? She was the daughter of immigrants, a dedicated student, a direct victim of inequality … a wife, a mother, an astute researcher, a visionary administrator … a member of the esteemed U.S. Institute of Medicine, a passionate mentor and wise counselor, and a charmer of Congressional committees,” writes Michael M. Gottesman, the NIH’s deputy director for intramural research, in the book’s introduction. “Through it all, Ruth was the very embodiment of the NIH spirit while showing the world what a smart, spunky lady could do. Ruth was many things to many people.”

Kirschstein was the first woman to head an NIH institute, serving at NIGMS from 1974 to 1993. She played a key role in the development of the Sabin oral vaccine for polio, which in 1971 won her the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Superior Service Award. She also was a tireless champion for underrepresented minority students, and those efforts were recognized by Congress with the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards, which provide funding for postdoctoral and predoctoral fellows.

Among the many other honors bestowed upon Kirschstein, who died in 2009 at the age of 83, was the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Howard K. Schachman Public Service Award in 2002. Kirschstein donated the award, an antique brass microscope, to the NIH so that it could be displayed permanently on the campus. The ASBMB also has an award in Kirschstein’s name. It was established to honor an outstanding scientist who has shown a strong commitment to encouraging underrepresented minorities to enter the scientific enterprise and to mentoring those within it.

In a statement about the release of the new biography, Gottesman said, “At a moment in time when professional service to the government is often not given the respect it deserves, the story of Ruth’s life and the positive effect she had on public policy, public health and the training of several generations of biomedical researchers should inspire those considering public service and give great satisfaction to those currently serving the nation and the world.”

The book is available as a free downloadable PDF and as a free e-book for Nook, iPad and Kindle. Visit to get your copy.

Angela_HoppAngela Hopp ( is editor of ASBMB Today.

found= true1716